Chris The Curious

Decent wire welder for occasional use

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I don't have a welder.  But the more I read about and get into this blacksmithing hobby, the more I realize I'm going to occasionally need a one.  Certainly don't need one that will weld big heavy stuff.................more like a tack or two here and there or a short bead or two now and then.  Don't care to spend thousands, but don't want to have to continually go ask to borrow someone else's either.  So what's a halfway decent wire-fed welder for that kind of occasional use?

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Harbor Freight has them from around $180 U.S. and up. I've had one for years and it will do light duty work, although the first one I bought failed after about a year (which they replaced). I would recommend looking for a used name brand MIG welder like Miller, Victor, Lincoln Electric or Hobart though. You would be money ahead in the long run. We bought a used Hobart Handler 187 with tank of gas, cart, 40 foot extension cord and tool box with tools for $600 and haven't touched the HF machine since.

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I bought an *old* Lincoln tombstone welder for US$40 and it's suited me well for doing smithing stuff and I can weld heavy stuff with it when needed, I see them on CL for a couple of hundred fairly regularly. If you are not using it regularly then the welding wire can corrode and need replacing even before you ever use it.

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What Thomas said. Look on craigslist. My son found a craftsman with a cart, tank, extra welding tips, grinding goggles, gloves and wire. Oh and a hood that was missing the glass. Hadn't been used much. The guy just didn't want to weld anymore. US $180

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My old Tombstone stick welder was donated to me from a friend who closed his body shop 30 years ago. I learned how to weld with it and still use it for heavy stock welding. That's a very good choice to learn on.

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Stay away from the low end off brand wire feed mig welders.

In days of old I used a battery charger and coat hanger in a pinch for light repairs

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Also don't get caught up in worrying about any lower duty cycles. You more than likely will just be tacking in place, stop look adjust run a bead or two stop look adjust  so forth and the like.

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Yeah you might be better off with a older lincoln tombstone. Basic a/c around here on c/l is around $100 or even less. D/c models are a bit more, but would be my preference. Get you one of those machines and a couple pounds of 6010 or 6011 and start melting things together. If you're set on wire feed, you can get one of the 140 amp miller or lincolns. They're not too spendy used and they will get you started.

Steve

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55 minutes ago, Chris The Curious said:

Okay, folks, thanks.   I was just thinking wire-fed because I'm lousy with a stick welder. 

Arc welding is arc welding but wire feed welders are much better at hiding poor welds, especially migs. Stick is more versatile, you can buy rod for most anything. 

Which ever you use you need to make a puddle and fill it. Manipulating the arc to penetrate evenly on both pieces of the join takes practice but isn't too hard. 

Mig is just too easy to point and shoot without even seeing the join past the gun, they make beautiful LOOKING cold lap welds. 

Nobody's asked yet, do you have 220v in your shop Chris? I assume you do with all the wood working equipment you have but assumptions aren't particularly safe. You want a 220v welder whatever you get. I have a Hobart, 120 Handler and it'd nice to be able to plug into any 15amp 120v outlet but welding 1/4" requires multiple passes. Root pass and at least two fillets, a real PITA. Welders that light duty were designed for body and fender work. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Arc welders seem to be less expensive..............and, yes, I know you can buy rod to repair most anything.  Very versatile. 

Yes, of course I have 220.  It's only single phase, but that'll handle an arc welder, won't it?

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You can get by with a cheap wire feed for the small stuff but I would suggest you spend a lot of time practicing with  it before you go at something important.  With those cheap-o welders, there is a learning curve to finding out what works well and what doesn't.  Once you dial it in (both the settings AND your methods), they can do an ok job.  Personally, I prefer to use shielding gas instead of flux-cored wire so getting a cheap-o that has the gas option is worth it in my opinion.

But...your money will be better spent on a bit better [name brand] welder...Even though you might toss a lot more money at it, not only will it produce FAR better welds, it will hold a lot of its value so in the long run actually costs no more than a reasonable cheap version and sometimes less (those cheap ones have little resale value and sometimes short life-spans).

 

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The other good thing about a MIG welder is you can use flux core wire without the gas, if your budget is low, always get the gas tank & regulator later. Still welding with gas is so nice & cleaner, that it's worth it to use it and save a lot of grinding the splatter away.

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Well, I'm not sure I want to spend a ton of money on a "good" welder.  I think about the only thing I'm going to need one for is to spot weld a stack of steel  for Damascus or a long length of rebar on a stacked billet to forge-weld Damascus occasionally.  I've got a little welding to do on my ribbon burner and the housing that will hold it in the forge.................but I could more inexpensively ask someone to do it for me for a 6-pack rather than go out and buy a welder.

By "gas", do you mean oxy-acet, IFC?  Or do you mean TIG?

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I have an older Lincoln SP-100 120V MIG welder, and it is a great welder. Can't tell you how many miles of wire has passed through it. One nice feature is the heat range dial is infinite, not click type ranges. I have done 1/4" in one pass , and thicker with multiple passes. Even did a broken bellhousing on a Turbo 400 aluminum transmission, but that required some preheating with a torch. Thin aluminum like a screen door is a breeze.  A guy has a Lincoln 120? listed for $275. Not all MIGs can run gas, so make sure it has the fittings. Flux core gives deeper penetration, at the expense of splatter. Flux core can also be done outside on a windy day.  I would stick with Lincoln, Miller, Hobart for brands as consumables are easily found. I have MIGs up to 650A, and each has its place.

 

Stick has its place, but it is tough to do the more precision welds like MIG can do, and MIG is not as precise as TIG....

 

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This is beginning to sound like it's far too complicated for my occasional needs.  I don't care for hassles.  Sure don't need to spend a bunch of money I don't have on something I'll seldom use.

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58 minutes ago, Chris The Curious said:

By "gas", do you mean oxy-acet, IFC?  Or do you mean TIG?

No the gas I referred to is Co2/ argon for MIG (metal inert gas) wire welding.

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I always used straight CO2 as it was less expensive, and gave deeper penetration, at the cost of more splatter. A large bottle was $25.

Chris, it isn't that complicated. Pretty simple actually. You say occasional use, but once you have a welder uses start popping up all round you.

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Okay, IFC, thanks.

Well, BIGGUNDOCTOR, I think I will wait until all those needs start showing their ugly heads before I run out and pick up a welder.  I'm still scrimping and saving for an anvil.

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Common terms are posing a risk to a new guy here guys. Just because a wire feed has a gas bottle does NOT make it a MIG. Mig stands for Metal & Inert Gas. Co2 in the gas, mixed or not is NOT inert. I run 75 25 Argon Co2  in my Hobart wire feed as a GMAW. Gas Metal Arc Welder. 

It may sound like semantics but it's an important difference.

Flux core is as far as I know just called flux core wire feed or just wire feed. I've been out of the trade for more than 20 years so terms may have changed. 

I don't use flux core at all, it's just as slag ridden as rod and is much easier to get slag inclusions as it can go so much faster. I used flux core hard facing wire and a couple times as build up and "production" or high inch count welding. Basically the guy who hired me was more interested in not paying for time than good welds. 

This stuff only really gets complicated when you ask for the wrong thing at the welding supply so it is important to know what you have and not mix types, names, designations, etc. 

Here's a trick to add to the coat hanger + car battery welding kit. Wrap the coat hanger with a couple layer of damp Kleenex or toilet paper so it sticks, let it dry and it's now flux coated welding rod and generally higher carbon than mild steel. Don't forget you can reverse polarity if necessary.

Frosty The Lucky.

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At some point you will need to jump in and get your feet wet. Tackle that dreaded learning curve . You might just amaze yourself.  Remember you will not be doing critical welding.

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My take, for the work you are intending to do, and most likely want to do, buy an old heavy single phase stick welder, the reputable brands are horses, and rarely die, nowadays everyone is buying lightweight inverter welders and throwing out the old ones for pennies. I have what was a top end [ 20 odd years ago], nearly 2000 bucks worth at the time, 240 volt inverter with stick and tig capability and I love it, but it was bought for easy portability as it only weighs a couple of pounds so I could take it anywhere there was a power supply and do what was needed, It will run 120 amps all day, IF the power supply can stand up. You can buy similar, but lower end units nowadays for a couple of hundred bucks new, but you don't need that unless you intend to do a lot of welding of various types. Also ,I agree with Frosty, learning stick is a lot easier to be able to read and interpret what you are doing as you learn, learning mig without someone helping you set up the machine will have you frustrated quickly, although once you get your settings right on a good machine, welding is pretty simple.

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120amps????  I don't have circuits like that in my shop..............or at least I don't think I have.  I know I've got a 220v outlet........but have no idea as to the amperage of the circuit.  It was originally designed to run a hot water heater.

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Sorry Chris, confused you, I'm talking about output amp, not supply amps, that welder will run pretty well on a 10 amp supply, but duty cycle is reduced a bit, It runs much better on 15 amp, and the 120 amp I mentioned was just an indicator,Most of my home welding is done with 3.2 mm rods in the 90- 110 amp range.

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